All surgeries involve risk and will have unique risk factors. Generally, it is required that a patient sign a consent form to proceed with the surgery, having been informed of and acknowledging the potential risks of injury and/or death. As the consent must be informed, it is important that the risks be communicated to the patient prior. Beyond the advised risks of surgery, surgical errors do occur. A surgical error may occur before, during or after surgery and can have grave consequences on the patient.
Generally, a surgical error is a preventable mistake that has occurred as a result of one or more of the following instances:
- Incompetence: Surgeons are required to be up to date with current surgical procedures and display competent skills to perform the surgery successfully, without extending further risks onto their patient. If a surgeon completes a surgery that is beyond their current skill level or training, an unintended injury my result.
- Inadequate preoperative planning: All surgeons and their surgical team are required to have a detailed preoperative plan in place. Medical records and surgical techniques should be reviewed and a plan should be in place to combat any potential complications.
- Fatigue or the influence of drugs/alcohol: Many surgeons and surgical team members are required to work exhaustingly long hours. Unsurprisingly, it is common for mistakes to be made during surgical processes due to fatigue. Further, due to the stressors and high standards that surgeons face, some surgeons have been known to turn to drugs and/or alcohol. If the surgeon or surgical team’s competence is inhibited by fatigue, drugs or alcohol, the patient may have a valid medical malpractice claim.
- Neglect: Canadian operating rooms are historically busy and overbooked. Thus, the surgical team may rush through the procedure or be operating with minimal resources, which could result in an avoidable mistake.
- Miscommunication: The surgical team must employ proper communication to ensure that the surgery is completed as planned. Often, important information is miscommunicated, such as surgical location, medication dosages or allergies, or even having the necessary equipment present in the operating room at the time of the surgery.
A surgical error could be as obvious as operating on the wrong body part. However, there are many other more subtle surgical errors, such as injuring a nerve or unintended organ, administering the wrong medication or dosage, or leaving equipment inside the patient. These surgical errors are avoidable, but can occur as a result of negligence on the part of the surgeon or surgical team.
Surgical errors can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim if the surgeon’s or surgical team’s negligent conduct was below the accepted standard of care as compared to reasonably competent professionals practicing in that same area of surgery, under similar circumstances. The patient must also have been harmed or have suffered some amount of measurable damages as a result of the breach of the standard of care in order for a lawsuit to be viable.
If you or a loved one has suffered injury as a result of surgical negligence, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for advice on what options are available to you.